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Before You Speak, THINK!

Shut up for a minute before you dive into the fray.  Before you start repeating the latest chant or the moment’s trendiest #hashtag, just stop and be quiet for a few.

My teen is taking a language arts class with a friend of mine, and this lady has been amazing about teaching the kids in the class the power of words and how to use them for good.  Yesterday, she was talking about the etymology of words used in politics and the discussion, naturally, came around to the previous Saturday’s March for Our Lives in Wilmington.  Thousands of people marched, and even young children – some the age of my younger daughter – spoke out for school safety and against assault rifles.  The instructor went on to empower the students to speak out and to develop an ease of speaking so that, even if put on the spot, they can speak eloquently and confidently.

But there was one thing the instructor left out.  She didn’t tell them to think carefully first.  Friends with school students talked to their kids ahead of a previous Wednesday’s walk-out in protest of school violence.  Some of them had no idea why they were walking out.  They just did it because everyone else was doing it.  I wonder how many of those school children have researched all the facets of this argument?  How many have investigated both sides of the debate?  To argue intelligently against something, one needs to know why they are against it.

What is the actual issue at hand?

Why does this need to change?

What does the other side believe?  Why do they believe that?

What are possible consequences of each side “winning”?

What are possible consequences of each side “losing”?

Only after answering these questions can someone own a clear, convicted voice for their side of the discussion.  It takes more than just blind following and a hashtag to embrace a belief.

I can see both sides of this issue.  I have friends who have assault rifles just because they can.  They’re mentally stable and won’t go into a school and kill people.  Assault rifles aren’t only available at sporting goods stores.  They’re available at pawn shops and the trunks of dark-colored sedans parked on shadowy streets in certain parts of cities.  Sadly, whatever’s banned or restricted is always available on the black market, and banning something won’t keep people who want it from acquiring it.  Ever hear of Prohibition?  Or underground churches in China?  Good or bad, it can be had.

With the news of each school shooting, my girls are grateful to be homeschooled.  When I was in school, we had fire drills and tornado drills.  There were no lock-down drills, no active shooter drills, and no metal detectors.  When the news reports a situation at an area high school, my teen immediately starts mentally scrolling through her friends to see which one might be in the middle of that.  When it’s not one of her best friends, she breathes easily again.

For heaven’s sake, it’s hard enough being a teenager in school without having to worry each and every day if it’s going to be your last!  Freshmen are trying to navigate high school itself.  Sophomores are thinking about getting their licenses.  Juniors are wondering about prom and the first round of SATs or ACTs.  And seniors are fretting about college and scholarships.  These are all important parts of a schooled teen’s life.  The last thing they need to think about is their own personal safety while they’re sitting in a desk trying to learn.

Those students for whom this fear is a living, breathing part of their everyday existence have every right to peaceably protest the ease with which people can get weapons to kill them.  They have the right to feel disgusted when those who are supposed to be representing their rights and best interests instead represent entities who don’t value them as people.  Many people on “the other side” are scoffing at them:  “They’re just kids.  What do they know?”  The seniors in the crowd have studied US Civics and know how government is supposed to work.  And they’ll be voting in November’s mid-term elections.  These teens from Florida know that someone came into their school and killed 17 people who shouldn’t have died that day.  Other teens from other schools know that such senseless violence can happen anywhere and are doing what they can to prevent it.

Before insulting the children for being “too young” or “too immature” or “too stupid” to effect change, take a moment and consider the situation through their lenses.  Imagine every day having to go to school and possibly being killed by some mentally unstable person just because you’re in the right place at the wrong time.  Before jumping on the “take away all the guns!” bandwagon, consider those people who use guns to hunt for food for their families and those private homeowners who own guns responsibly for their own safety and that of their families.  Step into the skin of the other person and see things from their point-of-view.  Then, and only then, can you argue for either side with authority and conviction.


The History Lesson

I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

I’m writing this in a darkened hotel room in Arlington, Virginia on Memorial Day 2017.  My teen daughter is still asleep in her bed.  The morning has dawned misty and grey, the lights fuzzy blurs below us, our peek of the Potomac barely visible.  We have been in town to minister, though we also took time to be tourists.  Friday was Arlington, Saturday was the Vietnam Memorial, the WWII Memorial, and part of Air & Space.  Sunday was ministry to bikers, a good number of them veterans, especially Vietnam Vets.  Because of the timing of our homeschool year, Saturday was my older daughter’s last day of school for the year, and we made it a field trip.

When we were at Arlington, I looked out over the acres upon acres of tombstones, and I cried.

Acres of tomb stones at Arlington National Cemetery. There are so, so many!

At the Wall, I looked at the cards left by children, the pictures of the dead left by families, and I cried.

The Vietnam War Memorial

Thank you card from a child at the Wall

I cried giving the history lesson.  Standing in the Pentagon parking lot yesterday, watching women from their 30s to their 90s astride motorcycles in the parade – Gold Star Mothers and Wives – I clapped and I cried.

Gold Star Moms and Wives

I began this post with the oath that soldiers take on enlisting in the Army.  The oath doesn’t change if one is drafted, nor is it different between the branches of the US Military.  In the years following WWII, the primary foreign enemy was the Soviet Union and its desire to spread communism throughout the world.  There was fear in this Cold War era of imminent nuclear war that would wipe out the entire world and, given the former USSR’s growing nuclear arsenal, an American victory wasn’t necessarily guaranteed.  To the American people, the spread of communism threatened the loss of our capitalist economic system, the loss of all the freedoms we enjoy, the end of democracy as we understand it, and the beginning of totalitarianism.

Vietnam happened in this Cold War Era.  Ho Chi Minh had gone to Europe for college and had discovered communism while there.  His beloved country was under imperial rule, first by Japan, then again by France after the war, and he had a genuine desire to make things better.  (Even the world’s worst leaders start off with a desire to make things “better,” whatever that looks like for them.)  The US could not stand by and watch communism take over our South Vietnamese allies, and after success at thwarting the communist threat in Korea, involvement, I’m sure, seemed like a pretty good idea at the time.

Although the Republic fell, some still think of us as allies.

Republic of Vietnam & the US – Allies forever

The US enlisted some and drafted some.  In those days before the draft lottery, the government would draft the number of men they needed, starting with 1 January birthdays and going until it had its quota.  If your birthday was after 1 September, your chances of avoiding the draft were pretty good.  Then 1970 came along, and with it, the draft lottery.  At this point, it didn’t matter when your birthday was.  If you were smart enough and your family wealthy enough to send you to college, you could take an educational deferment, but once you failed out, dropped out, or graduated, your deferment was history.  In your four years there, you hoped and prayed for an end to the war.  Sadly, a disproportionate number of minority and poorer young men didn’t have college as an option, so to war they went – thousands of miles away from home, momma, family, and all that was familiar and comfortable.

In fulfilling the oath they took, they fought the “foreign enemy,” the growing spread of communism.  Yet, the Viet Cong were fighting a foreign enemy, too, and they were fighting for their own independence and “independence” for all of the Vietnamese people.  (We know with our 20/20 hindsight that “independence” doesn’t exist in totalitarian governments, but such a perspective was not in their grasp at the time.)  Not only did our men go and fight in a foreign land against an ideology that was anathema to our American ideals, but some of them died for it.  Do you get that?  In fighting against the spread of totalitarianism and communism, in the struggle to protect and defend our constitution, they diedThey.  Died.

You know what I find most disgusting, most disgraceful, most galling, most heartbreaking?  They died fighting for those freedoms that their fellow citizens used to verbally and physically assault their comrades-in-arms when they returned home from the war.  They died so that a bunch of idealistic college students and housewives who’d watched the war come into their living rooms each night could spit on and cuss at and revile the men with whom they served and even the men and women with whom they didn’t serve.  In a totalitarian government, spitting on or insulting an employee of the government (e.g., a soldier) would be cause for severe punishment, anything from being sent to a “re-education camp” to instant death.  (By 1970/71, my dad’s CO told his men not to wear their uniforms off-base for fear of assault – and my dad never even went to ‘Nam; he served state-side.  But he still would have been accused of being a “murderer” and “baby-killer,” because the media portrayed all soldiers as such.)

Those soldiers, sailors, airmen, corpsmen, and nurses whose names are on the Wall in Washington died to protect our freedoms.

Vietnam Nurses Memorial. This is so poignant, so perfectly capturing what they must have felt and done!

Those soldiers, sailors, airmen, and corpsmen who are memorialized in Washington, DC and various other memorials around the country died to protect our freedoms.  Every single one of them diedThey died to protect us, they died fighting to preserve our American ideals and our American way of life, one of which is the freedom of speech we take so dreadfully for granted.  They died so we can protest injustice, they died so we can articulate our opinions about the sitting government officials (whoever they may be and whenever they may serve), they died so we can share our faith and beliefs with others, they died so we can respectfully disagree, they died even so some cowardly dip-shit celebrity or clueless college kid can burn, step on, and disgrace the flag under which they served, fought, and died.  They died for the freedom I have to key these words, sharing my own opinions and beliefs.

Part of the WWII Memorial commemorating those who fell in the Atlantic Theater

As my daughter and I stood together on Saturday morning, our elbows resting on a segment of the WWII Memorial, looking at the states and territories represented over on the Pacific side of the memorial, observing all the people, listening to a band play music against the backdrop of the fountain, I shared these thoughts with her, shared with her that there is no freedom we have as citizens in our country for which someone has not sacrificed their life.  It’s for us.  I struggled to teach this all-important lesson without breaking completely down in tears; it was hard.  I had to pause and regain my composure a few times.  It’s important, though, that she understands and appreciates how she came to have the freedoms she does in this segment of history in which she lives so that, hopefully, she’ll never take these freedoms for granted.  She must understand how our nation’s history has brought us to this place and these privileges – and responsibilities – we enjoy.

On Sunday, we ministered to bikers, most of them veterans, and a large percentage of those were Vietnam vets.  If you’re like me and didn’t study the Vietnam War in school and/or were a baby or born after the war, you may or may not be aware of the lack of welcome these men received when they returned to the States.  After WWII, there were ticker tape parades, and a grateful America welcomed the soldiers home with open arms and tumultuous cheers.  The Vietnam vets returned home to cold shoulders and tumultuous… jeers.  Our weekend road captain instructed us to “Welcome them home.  Give them the welcome they never received.”  I quickly got adept at identifying the Vietnam insignias and looking for the armed services pins and patches.  Hearing, “Welcome home, Marine.  Thank you for your service.  I’m very grateful” proved to be so transforming to the men who heard it.  Their faces changed, relaxing into ones of reflected gratitude and deep humility.

Just a small fraction of the bikes at Rolling Thunder

These men deserve our gratitude, our warm welcome, our warm reception.  It doesn’t matter what side of the war you’d have been on.  My daughter and I determined that we’d have likely protested the war, likely have disagreed with US involvement, but coming from a long family tradition of military service – going back at least to the US Civil War – there is no way we ever could have shown disrespect to the men wearing the uniform; they were doing their jobs, fighting for their country, fighting for our rights.

When you see the uniform, see the hats, see the insignias, stop and say, “Thank you.”  When you see the distinctive yellow and red bars that denote a Vietnam vet, welcome him home.  Sure, it may feel weird to say that to someone you don’t know 40+ years after their homecoming, but do it, anyway.  Say, “Thank you” to all who serve or have served.  Remember that they likely lost someone on the battlefield they cared about and respected.  Show the love, show the appreciation.

Follow Christ? Then you can’t hate Trump

I know, I know.  He’s racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic…  Everything Christ wasn’t, everything we as followers of Christ absolutely should NOT be, practice, or endorse.  But we as followers of Christ and people in relationship with YHWH are held to higher standards of behavior, and we are called to love the unlovable and pray for even the most vile of political leaders.

It starts way back in Exodus.  When the Lord is handing down the law to Moses for the Israelites, he says, “Don’t curse God; and don’t damn your leaders” (Ex. 22:28, The Message).  The leaders are put in place for a purpose.  We like to think that that purpose is single-handedly to bring back a revival that will hasten God’s kingdom on earth, starting with the good ol’ U.S. of A, especially since we like to layer a bunch of religiosity on our nationalism.  (Yes, nationalism; we’re shifting away from patriotism to nationalism currently, which usually leads to mass persecutions and a strong “us versus them” mindset, even when the “them” are fellow citizens.)  But what if there’s a higher purpose?

The writer of 1 Timothy exhorts his readers:  “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (2:1-2, NIV).  Hold it!  What???  We have to pray for leaders we don’t like?!  Isn’t that just a disturbing, uncomfortable thought?  But there’s a reason for it – it’s for our own good.  The Greek actually reiterates this idea of “peace,” as the Greek for “quiet” here is more of a meditative silence – peaceful.  Sounds like a pretty nice life, huh, being free from conflict?

In writing to the church at Rome, the Apostle Paul instructs, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1, NIV).  Similarly, Peter writes, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority…” (1 Peter 2:13, NIV).  Honestly, it just keeps getting harder to hear, doesn’t it?  The idea that God established – put in place, orchestrated, whatever word you want to use – this incoming administration feels like a betrayal to how Jesus himself taught us to live.  And the fact we’re supposed to submit to it…?  It seems we’re put in an impossible situation.

But maybe it’s not.  Maybe the Lord’s purpose isn’t to place the incoming president in a position to bring about the peace we crave himself, but to force us as Christ-followers to take a stand that can bring our eschatological hope closer to us.

It is easy to see Trump as “the enemy,” but, again, Jesus is clear on how we’re to treat our enemies.  He says in Matthew 5:44ff to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  I think it’s clear that we’re not to pray for their destruction, though it’s certainly tempting.

When I was in Div School, I did a text analysis on this passage in which I sought to answer the question, “Who is my enemy?” (my little play on the question the expert in the law asked Jesus in the intro to the parable of the Good Samaritan).  There are nine words for “enemy” in Hebrew, specifying particular enemies.  In Greek there’s only one.  However, Jesus spoke Aramaic, which is very similar to Hebrew, so I wondered, Which word for “enemy” did he use?  You know, so I could know exactly which enemy(ies) for whom to pray.  Well, it was a good idea at the time, but truth was, hours of research later, I didn’t have my answer; no one knew, so I had to rely on the Greek.  Through the work, I came to realize that it doesn’t matter.  Who cares to which enemies Jesus was referring?  At the end of the day, we’re to pray for all our enemies.  So I did.  I didn’t have personal enemies at the time, but in the post-9/11 months, we could certainly count Osama bin Laden and those in Al Qeada as our nation’s enemies.  So they are for whom I prayed.  Wanna know something awesome I discovered?  When you pray for your enemies, your heart about them changes, and you no longer think of them as your enemies.  They don’t necessarily change, but you do.

If we’re going to trust God’s message, then the incoming administration is here to fulfill some part of God’s purpose.  We don’t know what that is; we have to trust without seeing the big picture.  At the same time, the word of God is clear about what we are called to do:  We are to pray for our leaders.  Further, we are to be advocates for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the refugee, fighting for justice for them, because we are all at some time strange people in a strange land.  The first century writers were instructing their fellow believers against the backdrop of unimagined persecutions at the hands of the Roman Empire, a time when churches were meeting in homes and believers were hoping not to be martyred for being one of “them.”  White Christians most likely will not suffer personally throughout the new presidential administration, but there’s the disturbing potential for our friends, neighbors, coworkers and fellow church-goers who aren’t White Christians to suffer extreme persecutions.  It is up to us to be loud, vocal advocates for these people who, like us, are Americans and who, like us, may also be Christians.

The cross offers us free grace, but it’s not cheap.  We need to extend that grace to all, no matter the cost.

Learn From History or Repeat It

In the grand scheme of world history, eighty years is like a blink.  In the youth of our country, eighty years is a bit more substantial, a full one-third of the U.S.’s life as an independent country.  It was about 75-80 years ago when the Fascist governments were beginning their aggression towards their European neighbors, aggression which would become World War II.

As most students of U.S. history know, the U.S. didn’t enter the war until very early 1942 following the unprovoked bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on 7 December 1941.  Yet, prior even to this date, even before 1939 when the war would begin, the U.S. was persecuting some of her own citizens out of fear.  They don’t usually teach this in U.S. History, not even AP history; they didn’t when I was in school, anyway.

As Fascism grew in Italy under Mussolini‘s dictatorship, the U.S. government began to incarcerate Italian-American men and Italian immigrants in our country out of fear that they’d be sympathetic to Fascist Italy.  The government shipped these men by cattle cars (Cattle cars!  Sound familiar?  It was the Nazis’ preferred mode of prisoner transport, too.) to prisons in Montana and New York.  In doing so, they split up families, leaving thousands of women and children to survive without their primary bread-winner during the continuing dark days of the Great Depression.

As the war continued, especially following the attack on Pearl Harbor, German nationals who were stuck in the country because of the war and German-Americans (naturalized or citizens by birth) were monitored closely and over 10,000 of these were incarcerated.  Some of those citizens had one or both parents who had immigrated from Germany.  They were still citizens, though, regardless of their bloodlines.  These Americans lost their homes and their livelihoods, and many families were split up with children being sent to orphanages.

We know, perhaps, about the incarceration and relocation of the Japanese-Americans the most.  The government forcibly relocated thousands of citizens of Japanese descent from California to internment camps in the central United States, believing that they would aid our Japanese enemies otherwise.  Whole families were forced to leave their homes and jobs and live in crowded conditions, surrounded by chain link and barbed wire, with armed guards watching them around the clock.

Some of these prisoners were held until 1948, three years after the war had ended.  A fairly vast number of them had relatives serving in the armed forces, fighting the enemies without; I know one guy of German descent who served with honor in the Pacific Theater in the 1st Cavalry division of the US Army.

And now there’s talk during this election year of wanting to imprison Muslims.  Who in history imprisoned people based on their religion?  Yes, Adolf Hitler, arguably one of the vilest dictators in world history (and there are some doozies!).  And now we see how the U.S., just like Hitler, imprisoned people based on their heritage – and fear.  Are we as a country going to repeat this embarrassing, unjust bit of history?  I think about my Muslim friends and my friends and neighbors from the Middle East.  They’re Americans with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities we all hold dear.  My next-door neighbor is almost 90 years old, and he doesn’t speak of his time in the Iraqi army nearly as much as he does his late wife, his grandchildren, and his Master’s degree from one of our state universities.  But would a government run by fear know that, or would it just see the color of his skin?

We as Americans need to stop listening to the fearmongering, need to stop letting those political earworms manipulate how we think.  We need to step back, reassess, and recognize that we are dealing with people here – people with families, homes, and jobs.  This isn’t about “Us versus Them”; we’re all “us.”

If I’d Been Born in 1950

If I’d been born in 1950, I would have been 18 in 1968, heading off to college.  I’d have been able to vote in that year’s presidential election, and I’d have voted for whichever candidate would have gotten us out of Vietnam fastest.  And I’d have greatly disliked my government.

I probably would have taken part in protests, calling for an end to the war.  Instead of being WWII and Vietnam-era veterans, my Grandpa and Dad would’ve fought in WWI and WWII, respectively.  My other Grandpa was born between the wars – too young for the last one, too old for the next one – but he served his four years in the Army, too.  Coming from a family in which military service is expected and applauded, I see myself, regardless of when I was born, having the same admiration and respect for those who serve, fight, and sacrifice.  Even at 18, I knew the members of the US Military are ultimately answerable to the Commander-in-Chief, the president of the US, and they have to obey his decisions, whether they like them or not.  There have been presidents in our history whose desire to engage in war has put troops in harm’s way that the presidents themselves would shy from, and men and women who have died because of a president’s ego or posturing.  There still are.

I’d be watching the boys with whom I grew up heading off to war.  These two in the Navy as enlisted personnel.  This friend using the education deferment, but he would graduate before the war’s end and be drafted if he didn’t enlist.  My cousin trying out the education deferment, but getting drafted after flunking out after his first year.  Or maybe the fear of being drafted would have made him buckle down – more studying, less partying.  His birthday is early enough in the year that the draft would have caught him, lottery or no.  This friend claiming a conscientious objection based on religious reasons.   This other friend – my first crush – being rejected for service because of being “a deviant”; he’s gay.

So, while I would have protested, I would not have taken my feelings out on those who fight.  After all, they are not the ones who declared war; they’re just the ones who have to fight the battles, risking family, mental health, body parts, and even their very own lives.  A friend from high school once said, “I support our troops.  I support them so much I want them to come home where it’s safe.”  If I’d been born in 1950, my spittle, either literal or figurative, would have expressed my contempt for the war-mongering government, but my words would have expressed my deep respect for those brave men and women who laid it all on the line, simply because their government told them to do so.

What Robin William’s Death Can Teach Us About Depression

Robin Williams died this week, apparently by suicide. I had learned during my undergraduate studies that he suffered from bipolar disorder and would use it to benefit his comedy, riding out the manic episodes to create exceptional improvisational comedy, both in his stand-up routines and in his screen roles. I admired that about him, how he turned a psychological disorder into something positive, useful, and, yes, very funny.

Robin was my favorite comic actor. (I adore Bill Cosby for his low-key comedy and tell-it-like-it-is bluntness.) But Robin… There was just something about him. Maybe it was that early admiration. Or his ability to play a variety of different roles really well. He was special. And yet, we discovered his dark side this week as the cause of death hit the airwaves. We learned that he’d entered rehab earlier this summer, a wise move for anyone struggling with addiction issues. Perhaps it’s the part of me that’s really fascinated with forensic psychology and behavioral analysis, but it seems odd that he’d want to improve his life through rehab if he was so depressed he was ready to end it all.

Yet, I realize that a depressed person can choose to end his life with very little warning and notice. Sure, often there are signs. For someone who had struggled for so long with depression, though, suicide looked like the only viable alternative. Robin’s critics slammed him for killing himself. I’m sure his family – his wife especially – are going through their own personal circle of hell in wake of Robin’s choice. Yet, sloughing all that away, a major positive of Robin’s death is, it brought the issue of depression front-and-center in America’s consciousness.

Contrary to what I’ve heard and read, depression isn’t something you just “get over,” nor is it a purely spiritual condition. Plenty of people of faith suffer from depression. I’m evidence that a person of strong faith can pray and pray for someone to be healed of an affliction, but has to accept that God has a different answer and a different plan from my own. People who are sad can get over sadness. People who are grieving can move through that journey to something like happiness again. People can even go through periods of what looks like depression based on circumstances of life. These are all instances that look very much like depression, but that are temporary.

Robin Williams, like so many other people, had very real, clinical depression. This isn’t a choice. This isn’t something you “get over.” It’s not a spiritual condition. This is a chemical problem in the brain that has to be medicated. The treatments are varied. Some people are able to treat depression successfully with some lifestyle changes, like regular exercise; change of scenery; and talk therapy. Others require daily medication to maintain an even mood. Still others are so severely depressed – we’re talking in-the-therapist’s-office-with-a gun-to-their-head depressed – that only the most radical of treatments will get them to where antidepressants even work.

Depressed brain comparison

A PET scan of the brain of someone with depression compared to someone without it

Depression is a disease.  There’s some correlation between depression and low serotonin reuptake in the brain.  Bottom line is, when someone has depression, their brain – that organ in our heads – is sick.  Why wouldn’t we find ways of treating it?  If the heart is diseased, we treat it, right?  We don’t think anything of a diabetic taking insulin, because their pancreas isn’t working the way it should.  There’s no stigma at all to taking inhaled steroids for asthma.  So why do we think that someone with depression – a disease of the brain – should just pray more or exercise more or “get over it”?

My best friend is one of those who have to take antidepressants on a daily basis. He can survive without his medication, but his moods will swing wildly. The antidepressants help him maintain more of an even keel. (I intentionally refer to his medication as “antidepressant” as opposed to by its name, because I don’t want to forget that his depression is a part of him.) Bobby goes through funks, even on his meds, but they don’t last long, and we can discuss and deal with them. Because he’s a valuable person who God created and loves (nevermind the fact that I happen to like the guy), it’s a no-brainer that I’m willing to enter into his depression with him for as long as it lasts – but I have to know about it first.  I asked him one time how he’d kill himself if it ever got that bad.  He told me, and I said, “Call me and wait, and I’ll come with you.”  I figure, 5 hours stuck with me in a car, and we can get through anything and everything.

Robin Williams’ death is making us talk about something that we’d rather just push aside and forget – depression.  I’ve never heard of anyone raising funds for depression awareness.  The awareness ribbon is kelly green, and we should start sporting one for those who we love who are battling this disease in silence.  The people I’ve met who are depressed are some of the strongest people I know, because each day they get up and move on, dealing with that day or the next step to the bathroom or whatever they have to do to get to the next whatever.  Even in their funks, they work and love and give something of themselves to others.  And each day, they find a reason to keep living.

If you’re dealing with unexplained sadness, hopelessness, disturbed appetite, disturbed sleep; or if you are thinking about hurting or killing yourself, PLEASE tell someone – anyone! – or call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). 

No True Altrusim

Our Advent got off to the most amazing start today!  My family and I were heading home after spending Thanksgiving with my parents and visiting my grandparents, and we were on the off-ramp of an exit to get gas.  We’re sitting at the light when I spot a panhandler.  You know the type – scruffy beard, worn-out clothes, cardboard sign.  He was working the section of the intersection to our left.  I thought about the manna bag I had in the car that my older daughter had made in GAs, and I was feeling a bit frustrated that we had the means to help this guy out at least a little bit, but we’d be in the center turn lane getting back onto the interstate.  Then God cut into this little moment of my history.

The light was longer than I’ve ever experienced before at this ramp.  (Definitely a God thing!)  I looked up, and this man was beginning to work the shoulder close to us.  I said to Peter, “Quick!  Get the manna bag and pass it to Mary.”  Then I pushed the button to put Mary’s window down and said, “You’re up, sweetie.”  She handed the bag to this beggar, he walked off, and I put the window back up.  I asked her later how it felt doing that, and she said, “It felt good.”  As for me, I felt some kind of good that I’ve never experienced before, and I decided that must be what it feels like when your “heart grows three sizes.”

I think doing this will always feel good, so there will be some unintentional reward in it for me, but that’s not why I’d want to keep doing it.  We’re looking for other ways to help people on the cheap, and it’s even better if we can do it anonymously.  What ideas do you have for helping the less fortunate?

New Trend in Social Networking?


Friendship (Photo credit: Iguanasan)

It starts simply enough.  You’re hanging out on Twitter or Facebook, responding to posts, chatting with people, and just enjoying connecting with people who may live across town or across the world.  The friendship starts online, but then develops to the point where you’d dare anyone to say it isn’t real.  Perhaps you can laugh with this person or even call them up in the middle of the night when things are going wrong.  You may call and end up speaking to their spouse or child, and vice versa.  The connection grows.  In some cases you may send a text meant just for your friend that gets intercepted by her teenage son and embarrasses the heck out of him.  (Oh, good times!)

Then you have an opportunity to meet.  This is especially valuable when your friends and you live states away from each other.  Last year, a friend from New York (we live in North Carolina) had to drive home at the last minute from her Florida vacation due to weather-related flight cancellations.  She needed a place to stop overnight, and without thinking, I offered her mom, son and her beds for the night.  Their visit was way too short, but I knew they were ready to get home.

When your online friends live in-state, then you have better opportunities to see each other on a more regular basis and become real-life friends.  This brings me to what I’m seeing as a new trend…

Once your online friends become your real-life friends, then you want to integrate them into your real life.  You want them to meet your family, and you want to meet theirs.  It reminds me of how, when we’re children, we’re so proud of both our parents and our friends that we want to introduce them.  We love them both, and we want our friends to meet our awesome, loving parents, and we want our parents to meet our way cool friends.  We want to know that part of our friends that exists away from just us.

I have a friend with whom I’ve been spending some time this Summer, and this friend happens to have a daughter the same age as my older daughter.  They’ve become great friends, and Bobby‘s daughter has even adopted my toddler as her baby sister.  Likewise, my toddler hears my friend’s name and says his daughter’s name.  (Got all that?  It’s confusing without names.)  He’s become like an uncle to my girls, especially since their blood uncle never contacts them.

The time has come for Bobby and his daughter to meet my family, and for my girls and me to meet his family.  Last Thursday, I met Bobby’s mom.  I was understandably nervous, but Bobby assured me his mom would love me.  I’m not sure I’d quite go that far after just one meet and a few posts back and forth on Facebook, but we do get along quite well and are already making plans to get together again, probably with my girls along.

Likewise, Bobby and his daughter may soon have the opportunity to meet my family.  Bobby’s not at all nervous about it, which surprises me, given he’ll be meeting a lot more of my family than I met of his.  Honestly, I’ll be a little nervous about it, too.  It’ll be fine, and we’re going to have a fun time.  We have reached the point where we’re saying, “You’re a special part of my life, and I want you to meet some other important people, too.”

Have you had an online friendship move toward real life?  What did that look like for you?

Gazelle Intensity or Lion’s Determination?

Deutsch: Grant-Gazelle (Gazella granti) beim F...

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Have you ever watched a nature show on National Geographic or Discovery Channel?  Or maybe, like me, you grew up watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.  You’ve seen big cats chasing tasty morsels, like gnus, wildebeests and gazelles.  The prey runs like hell.  Their whole focus is getting away from this animal – lion, tiger, cheetah – that wants to eat them.  They are intense on escaping.

Dave Ramsey says to approach your debt snowball with that same intensity.  Look at it.  Those creditors are following you, ready to devour you with those high interest rates and the incessant calls when you get just a month behind on your payments.  Go wildly crazy, doing whatever it takes to get out of debt.  We had that gazelle intensity, and we quickly knocked out over $4,000 of our $11,500 in debt.

The frustrating part for me is, now I feel like I’m losing my gazelle intensity and have moved to a lion’s determination.  An African proverb I saw on a forum one time goes something like this:

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up and knows it must be faster than the slowest moving member of the herd, or it’s going to get eaten.  Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up knowing it must be faster than the slowest moving gazelle in the herd, or it’s going to starve.  Either way, when the sun comes up, you’d better hit the ground running.

The gazelle spends its days hypervigilant.  If I know something is going to sneak up and try to eat me, then I’m going to be constantly alert, constantly ready to run or defend myself.  After a while, I’d imagine that gets exhausting.  But what about the lion?  The lion runs after the gazelle, catches it, either eats it or drags it back to the pride, and then takes a nap.  The lion must be determined to hunt and catch prey lest it starve, but it also has opportunities to relax and rest.

We’ve lost our intensity, but not our determination.  We’re letting ourselves have some fun.  Instead of tossing all of our money into our debt snowball, we’re giving ourselves permission to use some of Peter‘s commissions to enjoy date nights.  Dave says to put all gifted money into the debt snowball, but I treated myself to a new dress and shoes (took advantage of some amazing deals in the process).  This is OK; it’s likely the only money I’ll spend on new clothes for myself all year.  And, yes, I’m probably justifying, but Peter and I haven’t had regular date nights in ages, so the idea of being able to go out, just the two of us, is pretty attractive.

We found some debts about which we had forgotten (but they’re genuine debts). And there were some other debts I thought we had that we didn’t, and yet others which were forgiven.  I’m grateful for those last two, and I’m grateful for the plan we have in place to address the first.  We should be able to be debt-free by this time next year, alongside having the first part of Baby Step 3 completed.

And the Money Kept Rolling In

English: The Tree of Life at Disney's Animal K...

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When the money keeps rolling in, you don’t ask questions…”  So asserts Che in Evita.  We’ve got some money rolling in, and we’re doing nothing BUT asking questions.  First came tax filing weekend.  Last year I decided that, with the online tools available, it surely can’t be that hard to do our own taxes.  Instructions and online assists, and the math is pretty basic.  On top of that, it means saving the $400.00 that most local tax preparers charge.  OK, so it’s a lot of time, but it IS $400.00 staying in our pockets.  This past Saturday, I got all my business paperwork done and chose to use H & R Block‘s free online filing software through the IRS website.  It was soooooo easy to use!  No, no one’s paying me to say that.  The form is very user-friendly and I didn’t have to calculate much of anything.  It also keeps a ticker of your refund or debt, and our refund numbers kept going higher and higher.  I looked at it and said, “That’s not right.  That’s too much!”

I got to the end (in under two hours!) and announced that everyone would be happy with this year’s refund.  The first thing Peter asked was, “Is there enough to go to Universal?”  I replied, “Oh yeah.  We could go on a VERY nice trip to Universal – after we’ve wiped out our debt snowball and saved up for it.”

And that right there is the cold, hard evidence of how Financial Peace University has changed our lives.  Last year, we got our refund and immediately made reservations for a Walt Disney World vacation.  We were content to continue making monthly payments in exchange for seven days of fun in the “happiest place on Earth.”  Thing is, though, that, looking back, I had regrets.  Sure, we had fun and made some good memories, but how much better would those memories have been if we’d been able to clear our debts first and save up for the trip!  We rushed it, because my mom kept talking about taking our older daughter to Disney World, and we were afraid that she’d take the joy of her first trip away from us.

So, looking at this money that will soon be coming to us, the question is, What will we do with it?  The temptations are many and great – landscape the yard, buy a new HD flat-screen TV, replace our garage door, go to Universal Studios.  My Free Spirit husband would jump on any one of those.  I Corinthians 10:13 promises that God will not lead us to more temptation than we can bear, and God will give us a way out if we find ourselves in a tempting situation.  For Peter, God provided me to help lead him away from temptations, and I rely on God, because those things would be nice, I’ll admit.  So I’ve made plans for it – squirrel some away for savings.  Set some aside to replace the battery and tire on my Pontiac so I can sell it.  And then… The debt snowball.  That money will make a pretty big dent in it, which is reason to celebrate.  (Can we say “no more credit card debt”?)  In fact, we are confident that we can wipe out our debt snowball by the end of next year on the outside.  That’s exciting to me!  Then we can really start saving.

So, after relishing the thoughts of what it’ll be like to be out of debt and actually losing sleep from the endorphin rush (that’s some heady stuff there!), I was contentedly willing to wait for our refunds to be deposited into our accounts.

Then Monday, we heard our mail carrier beeping her horn twice, her way of letting us know that we have a package.  My older daughter and I went out to retrieve our mail, and not only did I have a case of soap, but we had some cards and there was a small notecard sized envelope to us with our church’s address as the return address.  Curious, I opened it up and found a blank note card with a gift card in a large amount to a local big box store.  I was in shock!

My husband and I were puzzling over who could’ve sent this.  He thinks someone from our Sunday morning small group may have done it after I was joking about the beans and rice.  Sometimes we live like NO ONE else.  Granted, beans and rice aren’t our favorite meal, but they sustain us, we’ll eat it and no one goes to bed hungry.  Not once did we complain or grouse about what we were lacking; after all, we knew it wasn’t going to last.  We were grateful for what we had, and, as meager as it was, we knew it was so much more than many people have.  It felt funny being the object of someone’s charity, though we were grateful for it.  (We could actually buy meats that didn’t come from fowl or cows; we had a delicious roast pork shoulder for our Valentine’s dinner.)  Someone felt moved because we weren’t living at their standard of living and wanted to make that better.  It was very sweet of them to do so, but I don’t think we’re in need because we don’t keep up with our friends’ lifestyles.  After all, it costs a lot of money to keep up with the Joneses, and it’s not worth keeping up with their debts, too.

Say you were going to be receiving $5,000.00 to use however you’d like.  What would you do with it?